"Nice" can be something of a backhanded compliment. See "That's nice dear" or "you're a nice guy, but..." In the case of side-scrolling puzzle-platformer Trine 2, though, it's hard to think of a more apt description. Trine 2 is nice - it looks really nice, its dialogue and story is entirely with snark or aggression, its puzzles are almost universally rewarding rather the frustrating and even the occasional combat interludes feel more like gently admonishing rampaging goblins than stabbing them to death. Yes, Trine 2 is probably the nicest game of 2011.
It's the simple tale of three fantasy types - a wizard, a warrior, a rogue - exploring soft-lit, colourful side-on levels, moving broadly from left to right until they eventually meet a climactic puzzle and an exit. Each of the three has distinct abilities - the warrior can fight and smash weaker obstacles, the rogue can shoot arrows and swing from a rope, and the wizard can levitate loose items and summon simple shapes to create new pathways.
In singleplayer, you can't rely exclusively on any one of these guys, but instead must switch regularly (and instantly) between depending on the nature of the challenge ahead.
Some puzzles are square peg, square hole, but much of the time the game's flexibile enough to let you cobble together a solution of your own devising. A few summoned crates stacked just so might let you just about reach the next ledge, or a bit of mid-air acrobatics with the grappling hook could spin you a little further. The warrior perhaps gets a little less time in the sun though - he's primarily there to beat down goblins or use his shield to sneak past a jet of fire unscathed.
It's the puzzles themselves that really shine though - physics and the elements are the backbones of the game, so you'll find yourself doing stuff like hovering hollow logs under waterfalls to create jets of water that make a giant plant with bouncy leaves grow, or using portals to make fire cross the level and heat up a cauldron that then releases bubbles you can jump onto.
Every once in a while, it'll drop something huge in - a screen-high snail or frog, for instance, each of which requires artful thinking to get it out your way. Rarely does Trine 2 rest on its A to B laurels.
It does so much with so little, each new screen a gentle jigsaw of ingenuity that requires thoughtfulness without collapsing into frustration. Experimentation yields results. There's also a simple ability upgrade system in there, allowing new powers such as hammer-throwing, fire arrows, stealth and summoning more objects at once - none of which are entirely necessary for success, but they do open up possibilities for puzzle solving, as well as allowing the rogue and wizard to have some defence against enemies.
To nab all the upgrades, you'll need to step up your thoughtfulness and patience so you can reach trickier areas of the level to fetch all the orbs lying around. A more casual player can make it through the game without doing this, but if you want everything real finesse is required. This adds a decent degree of replayability to what's a relatively short campaign, but if that's not enough there's also a three-man co-op mode which manages to both complicate and ease matters at the same time. Too many cooks, in a way, but also more brains beavering away at how to overcome each hurdle.
It's phenomenally clever stuff, but not too clever - never arch or smug or fiendish. Just nice. Always nice, in all the right ways.